This morning Greenpeace activists brought a very unusual gift to the Governor of St. Petersburg – a set of swimming accessories: beach towel, air bed, diving pipe, underwater mask, flippers and beach umbrella. Also attached to the gift was a set of measures on what needs to be done to make the Neva River clean and safe for swimming.

Two weeks ago the Governor of St. Petersburg Mrs. Valentina Matvienko announced that in 2012 the Neva River and the Gulf of Finland waters will be so clean that it will be possible to swim there. But unfortunately without adequate measures from state and business only a miracle can make the Governor’s dream come true in such a short period of time.

It is the fifth year of the Clean Neva campaign in St. Petersburg. During this time we have sampled water and sediment, set up independent water monitoring, and pushed the government to implement effective measures to make the Neva River. It has been us, not the state authorities, who have highlighted pollution crimes. While bureaucrats only see the Neva from the windows of luxury cars, Greenpeace activists have patrolled dozens of discharges contaminating the river.

The Governor’s announcement about safe swimming seems to reveal either that the Governor does not possess the accurate information about the situation, or else is intentionally misleading the population. And this is the why we decided to visit her office with a symbolic gift.

Several times we have appealed to city fathers and mothers to join efforts to save the river: we invited the Governor to a “Hidden St. Petersburg boat tour” to see the real pollution, we forwarded her an appeal from thousands of Peterburgers demanding she stop the pollution, and many times she was given our proposals on how to solve this sad situation. We proposed she meet with us at any time convenient for her, but until now it seems she has had much more important things to do than the care for the health of the people who get their drinking water from the Neva on a daily basis.

The Neva River is a symbol of St. Petersburg and a single water source for millions of people. But the Neva River is not only a water supply, it is a dumping ground for untreated discharges – ranging from little underwater fountains to huge concrete pipes with constantly flowing toxic liquids. All wastewater – whether it is household or industrial – flows into a single sewer system and is transported to large municipal treatment plants which are only capable of treating household wastewaters – not industrial pollutants.

Treating industrial wastewater is very complicated as there is a need to apply many different methods to remove thousands of contaminants. There is no “magic pill” capable of removing all hazardous substances from industrial wastewaters.

As a result there are a lot of hazardous substances being discharged by the municipal wastewater treatment plants. And the authorities know about this. They denied a request from Greenpeace Russia to do joint sampling for hazardous substances from St. Petersburg wastewater treatment plants. But it did not stop us from taking samples from these pipes in other ways, where we found such substances as phatalates, phenols, chloroform, dichloromethane, and heavy metals.

But there is a solution for the ongoing contamination of the Neva River. Even if we stopped all the toxic discharges one year is not enough to make river clean, but it is enough to decrease dramatically the negative impact of contaminated wastewater. Today, this measure has been presented to the Governor by Greenpeace Russia.

Our position is that a first step should be reducing the generation of contaminated wastewaters rather than spending time and money trying to transport the wastewaters out of the St. Petersburg city center. The real solution is clean production. City authorities have to encourage enterprises to use the best available technologies to achieve clean production.

Only a clean production approach together with real state environmental controls can reduce or eliminate the hazardous substances being discharged into the Neva River via the municipal sewers and actually make the river safe for swimming and drinking. Hopefully our gift of swimming accessories to the Governor will encourage her to take the action necessary to truly clean up the Neva.

More information available here.